Since they emerged as “associations” observed by DeToqueville, almost everyone has benefited or knows someone who has benefited from a nonprofit’s service. Pragmatic Philanthropy examined these early roots.
What Happens in America Happens to Nonprofits
Throughout our history, philanthropic actions have been reflections of changes in law and society. In Colonial America, repudiation of aristocracy affected the seeds of philanthropy. Changes in contract law had a profound effect as did the decline of churches – occurring at the same time. Between 1810 and 1850, the U.S. Supreme Court made several decisions that applied contract law theory around charitable institutions.
Contemporaneously, as religious institutions became less able to care for the poor and needy, charitable organizations took their place. The need for survival further spurred the development of associations such as fire departments. By 1843, Robert Hartley had established the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor. With a cadre of middle-class volunteers, the organization sought to end poverty by bringing about changes in behavior among the poor. These events, viewed as occuring at the same time in history, are instructive to post-millennium nonprofits seeking to survive. The answers to their future prospects aren’t in a crystal ball – it’s on the news.